PREVIEW: Blues v Reds

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Blues v Reds, Eden Park, 7.35pm, Friday, June 29.

Played: 22
Won: Blues 10, Reds 10, Drawn 2
Last time: Blues 34-29 Reds, Eden Park, June 6, 2017

The Blues' form, or lack of it, this year is well known with only three wins in their games so far. Their three wins have been over the Lions (38-35) in Johannesburg, the Sunwolves (24-10) in Tokyo and the Waratahs (24-21) in Sydney. They've lost twice to the Highlanders (34-41a, 16-34h), the Chiefs (21-27h, 19-21a) and also the Stormers (20-37a), the Sharks (40-63h), the Jaguares (13-20h), the Hurricanes (15-36h), the Crusaders (24-32h) and the Rebels 910-20h). The Reds made a good start to the season with three wins from four but have managed only one win since. They beat the Brumbies (18-10h), the Bulls (20-14h) and the Jaguares (18-7a) and the Lions (27-22h). But their losses have been to the Rebels (19-45a), the Stormers (19-25a), the Brumbies (21-45a), the Waratahs (16-37a), the Chiefs (12-36h), the Sunwolves (28-63a), the Hurricanes (34-38a), the Highlanders (15-18h), the Waratahs (41-52h).


It wouldn't be the Blues in their 2018 campaign if there were not injury frustrations and that continues again in a game being marketed as Jerome Kaino's final appearance on Eden Park. Captain Augustine Pulu faces a fitness test before he can play while Rieko Ioane has moved to second five-eighths in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams with his shoulder injury while Michael Collins is paired with Ioane at centre. That sees Matt Duffie at fullback and Melani Nanai and Caleb Clarke on the wings. Of special interest in the pack is openside flanker Blake Gibson's return, especially welcome in the loss of Dalton Papalii to a hamstring injury. Coach Tana Umaga said: "Our season to date has been disappointing, but we see these final three games as important for us to transfer that hard work that we see on the training field into performance on it."


The Reds will be without lock Izack Rodda, who suffered a shoulder injury against Ireland last weekend while Izaia Perese will also be missing with a knee injury that is likely to end his season. Harry Hockings is replacing Rodda while Eto Nabuli will replace Perese on the left wing. Jono Lance also returns to the side to play at fullback. Coach Brad Thorn said: "The guys are excited to be back in Super Rugby mode. Queensland hasn't won at Eden Park since 2012 so there's a great challenge and opportunity in front of us to show what progress we've made this season. We've been hit with some injuries during the June Test window through Wallabies and club rugby. But we've been giving some players opportunities all year to ensure we can deal with setbacks when they occur. The Blues are a dangerous team. They're big, athletic and have plenty of strike power. It's tough to win at Eden Park so we'll head there ready for anything."


Testing the Blues' defences for the Reds will be Samu Kerevi. He is third on the list of carriers this season having made 146, second only to Damian de Allende of the Stormers among the backs.


The Blues have made 121 carries per game this season, more than any other side, but they have only managed fifth on the metres gained at 435m.


Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Matiaha Martin, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Augustine Pulu (captain)/Sam Nock, 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Caleb Clarke, 12.Rieko Ioane, 13.Michael Collins, 14.Melani Nanai, 15.Matt Duffie.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds/Leni Apisai, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Jacob Pierce, 20.Murphy Taramai, 21.Jonathan Ruru, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.TJ Faiane/Tumua Manu.

Reds: 1.JP Smith, 2.Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3.Tanielo Tupou, 4.Harry Hockings, 5.Kane Douglas, 6.Lukhan Tui, 7.George Smith, 8.Scott Higginbotham (captain), 9.Moses Sorovi, 10.Hamish Stewart, 11.Eto Nabuli, 12.Duncan Paia'aua, 13.Samu Kerevi, 14.Jordan Petaia, 15.Jono Lance.

Substitutes: 16.Alex Mafi, 17.Harry Hoopert, 18.Ruan Smith, 19.Caleb Timu, 20.Angus Scott-Young, 21.Tate McDermott, 22.Aidan Toua, 23.Filipo Daugunu.